December 13
At my best, I try to be a voice for children. At my very best, I help them find their own voice. ************************************ We don't accomplish anything in this world alone...and whatever happens is the result of the whole tapestry of one's life and all the weavings of individual threads from one to another that creates something. - Sandra Day O'Connor * ************************************


Mamoore's Links
MAY 24, 2010 12:54PM

Pay-to-Play Gifted Education?

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 For the past two weeks, my brain has been in overdrive.  It doesn’t matter if I’m standing on the sidelines of a soccer game, waiting in the check-out at the grocery store, or chatting with friends on Facebook.  I am in 100% survival mode.


Like most around the country, my community’s school district is facing massive budget cuts.  The principals have been weighing their options for the past six months, knowing the day was going to come when they would have to make tough choices.  Rumors flew around town about what was on “the list”, leading to long lines of concerned citizens waiting to speak at every school board gathering.  Finally, two weeks ago “the list” was made public.


I have been told over and over again that every parent has their own agenda, their own priority programs. Every educator has a list of the services they would classify as critical.  We all know something has to give, and I don’t envy those who have to make the final decision about what stays and what goes. That being the case, I have tried to level my passionate pleas with a large dose of compassion.


My priority? Our Advanced and Accelerated program.  It's the gem of our school district, the thing that sets us apart from every other district in our county, one of the only programs of its kind left standing in our state.  It’s the program that rescued my son, and many others like him, from academic boredom and potentially more serious issues. A program unfortunately high on the list of those to be cut.


Before our son ever entered the public school realm, his pre-school teachers informed us that he was a very bright boy.  Being our first child, my only expectation regarding his kindergarten experience was that he would be successful because he was a smart, well-liked kid.  Ha!  For two years, I cried my way through every parent-teacher conference and every special meeting called to discuss our son’s behavior difficulties.  Rarely, if ever, did we get to the part about his academic talents.  Never did they attribute his behavior to those typical of a gifted student who is not being challenged. He spent hours sitting in the principal’s office or lined up against the fence at recess.  He wasn’t labeled a gifted child, but a bad child.  And he felt it.


The summer after second grade, we moved to Michigan and my only real fear was how our son would adjust to his new school.  Little did I know we had nothing to fear and everything to gain.  Our son was only a few weeks into second grade when his teacher contacted us to let us know they would be pulling him out of class several times a week to work independently with the Accelerated Learning teacher. He would also participate in other pull-out groups with students who were recognized as advanced learners in math and language arts.  This was the beginning of what I would call an educational miracle, for both my son and for me.  No more tears at parent conferences, only conversations about what else could be done to keep him challenged.  Little by little I could see our son’s behavior issues melt away.  Five years later, the boy who sat in the principal’s office on a weekly basis is a distant memory.


The entire yearly budget for our Advanced & Accelerated program, including teachers, supplies, coaches and entry fees for activities such as Destination Imagination and Science Olympiad, is about $40,000.  A small drop in the financial bucket considering the district needs to cut over $1 million.  And this is no elitist program; it serves hundreds of students in our district every year.  Many more than participate in football, or baseball, or most of the other sports that aren’t under consideration to be cut.  But, as I said, I am trying to have compassionate conversations.  I’m trying to practice empathy.  So, this is what I am advocating: let's save the part-time aide who teaches a wide variety of programs for students who score well on their standardized tests.  I would guess close to a hundred 3rd through 5th graders get to participate in programs such as Robotics, Fairy Tales on Trial, Spanish, and Toothpick Bridge Engineering, all taught by this very talented and underpaid woman.  The total cost to keep her employed for the school year?  $4000.  Sounds like a reasonable compromise and a very wise investment of school funds.  But, I have been told that the school board does not have time to break down each program into such small components.  So, mostly likely the entire program will be axed at tonight’s meeting.


Back to the part where I said I had switched into overdrive.  Suddenly, I am on a mission to raise $4000 dollars in private funding.  I am asking parents.  I am talking to people I know who work for businesses in our community – businesses that rely on engineers, and scientist, and creative thinkers.  I am looking at our savings account and wondering how big of a check we could afford to write.  For just one year, until we could find some grant money to cover this small portion of the program.  The problem hasn’t been a willingness of community members to contribute. The problem is that we are unsure how to move forward without setting a precedent, without creating the assumption that the district doesn’t need to fund the Advanced and Accelerated program because the parents will.  How do we avoid making gifted education into pay-to-play?  Do we help to fund the position and give our students access to some high quality programs?  Or do we play games with the school board and potentially lose the programs for at least one year if not for good?


So many times I want to sit back and let someone else deal with it.  But then another parent calls me and says “What can I do?”, and I realize it’s too late to back down.


Honestly, I’m not doing it for my son. He’s in middle school now and too old for most of the programs funded under Advanced and Accelerated.  I am doing it for my two daughters, and the other young women who love math and building things, so they are inspired to keep excelling in a male dominated field.  More importantly, I am doing it for all of those smart kids whose parents aren’t the ones calling me on the phone.  The ones whose parents don’t show up for the conferences and the band concerts.  The ones who are more likely to fall through the cracks and never develop their natural gifts.  And I’m doing it so no parent in my school district ever has to sit across the table from a teacher and feel as helpless as I once did.



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It's the same everywhere Melissa, not just there in Michigan. Well, it's certainly the same here. Our school superintendent, in a district of some 170,000 has long had an antipathy for the Talented and Gifted program here. The Dallas district has only recently been released from court oversight relative to the desegregation orders from the mid 70s and the magnet schools, including the TAG programs, were part of the deseg solution. The superintendent has said on record that every student will achieve what the TAG students do, as a personal goal of his. It's simply BS and PR to even say that, much less have an unattainable goal like that.

Our three kids were fortunate to be in the TAG program here, from the entry grade at 4th through high school, but you had to qualify to get in, and the benchmarks were high for TAG, much less so for the other magnets. Grades--B+ avg, national standardized test scores @ 85th percentile and above, comprehensive essay, portfolio of outstanding work among other benchmarks had to be met or exceeded to even submit an application.

Here's the thing, there is no denying the validity of the work teachers do in community schools to get everyone to grade level and beyond, if possible. There is no denying the amount of time, money and resources to get the bottom 20-30% of students to meet minimum standards, but often that amount of time, money and resources come at the expense of those students who have accelerated abilities. They are often left to go deeper into the curriculum by their own or they get bored and essentially give up without comprehensive direction. It's also true that in a fairly cloistered gifted classroom, a couple of things happen--the range of abilities from top to bottom is much less than in a neighborhood classroom which leads to the teachers having much more job satisfaction, which leads to a better "product" and there is a competitive collaboration among the students that raises the level of performance for the whole group, which keeps feeding itself.

The TAG HS the kids attended had only 200 students...yet they have consistently been ranked among the top three public schools in the nation by Newsweek and other bodies. And those 200 students routinely get offered in excess of $10 million dollars a year in scholarships...yes, that's right...more than $10 million (the figure is a compilation of all the scholarship monies that were offered--most students get multiple full ride scholarship offers and to tier one colleges--it's the total amount offered, not what will be selected to attend one college--it's used as a means of comparison in the district...and the next highest school scholarship offers is far below it, in the 500,00 range for a school that has 2,500 students.)

All those detail aside, the segregation of gifted students has enormous benefits to the students and families, and to the district. It is useful in getting students into the district who might otherwise attend private schools, and on and on. However, it is often seen as "elitist" and routinely disparaged. It's not a fit for every student, but it should be an option and choice for families who would benefit.

Gah, sorry Melissa, I could go on and on, but it's a topic that strikes close to home.

I've found, over fifteen years of volunteer service, at more that 20,000 hours, and a selection in one year as the volunteer of the year for the entire district, that the single most effective tool for parents to use to change or preserve policy is having a large number of parents all saying the same thing. Schools have a laissez faire attitude to individuals demanding change or status quo, that all too often it's easier to wait out parents because kids matriculate from one grade to the next or from one school to the next so quickly, it solves the problem by stonewalling. Many voices, into one voice is the biggest tool available to parents.

Best of luck to you, but I only see a continuing devolution of standards and practices, which is simply an indication of the continuing polarization of class stuggles, the haves vs the have nots all brought about by short term idiocy at all levels of government.
Oh, I wish you the best of luck. _r
Melissa, I feel your pain. I won't hijack your blog with my own tales (perhaps I'll blog about them) but my story isn't TAG education but orchestra. I volunteer with a struggling nonprofit music school that is attempting to pick up all the kids dumped by the public system that is just about to cut the last of orchestra education in my district.

The short answer is: Band gets funded, because bands march at halftime during football games. Orchestras do not, so they're less important.
As a parent who once had to fight long and hard for her children's education, I understand how you feel. Good luck!
Jeez, I hate to see this kind of thing happen. I remember those same types of discussions and cuts during the 70's recession, and it ain't pretty. I wish I had answers or ideas, but all I've got is really strong good wishes that an answer can be found - if only for your district, if only for a year, it's still a start.
Melissa - That is awful. Wanting more attention paid to Accelerated programs is a major reason we put Jacob in a charter school. I hope you prevail.
Barry- The rumor around town today is that the cuts from the state may not be as deep as originally expected and so the board might not have to cut as much - though I know that they will save classroom teachers before they save A&A and I understand that. But $4000 is so doable - I can't believe they can't find that much. The meeting is tonight, we'll see. I have a great group of parents ready to get to work on alternative solutions as soon as we know for sure. ..and now I know who to call for moral support if I need it!

Joan - unfortunately, I think we are going to need more than luck, but thanks for the good wishes.

Froggy - I always wondered why we have band and not orchestra, now I know!

Donna- Thanks.

Owl- My freshman year in HS in the 70's, everything that happened outside of school hours was cut - no sports, no clubs, no dances, no concerts, nothing. Thankfully I don't think we're close to that.

Blue- I did hear the other day that MI is starting a statewide online charter school...I'm keeping that in mind just in case we need it in the future!

jane - I feel the same way, that we have to keep it going at some level or we'll never get it back. Besides trying to raise the $4000 (which I think we will be able to do locally, but thanks for the very kind offer!) we have parents ready and willing to volunteer to cover some of the other programming that we would otherwise lose.
The problem is that we are unsure how to move forward without setting a precedent, without creating the assumption that the district doesn’t need to fund the Advanced and Accelerated program because the parents will.

-- that is the crux of the matter... for gifted and talented education... and public school overall. The San Jose Mercury News reported this morning that a school district well-known for its high test scores raised $2 Million to save 100 teachers from being laid off and from raising the ratios.

I am an avid fundraiser and active parent... but I sometimes wonder, is this just enabling the government to shirk responsibility for PUBLIC education?
Grace--I totally understand what you're saying. With my little music nonprofit, we are trying to replace stringed instrument education. We rent space from the public schools, and we pay skilled music teachers. So it still costs, even though all the administration is volunteer. The sad part is that as our program grows, we can predict by the "free/reduced lunch" statistics which schools will have parents willing to pay for music classes. So do we expend our limited resources and fundraise (and volunteer volunteer volunteer) to get our program to low-income schools, where the families can't pay for instrument rental, let alone class fees? Or do we stay with the high income schools where there are more parents likely to pay for after school violin class? It's a horrible choice to make. The parents with the time to volunteer also come from the high income schools.

My district has decided--poorer kids can play football, but they can't play the violin.
Go Mom! Unfortunately, if you don't fight for your own kids no one else is there to do it for you. I wish you all the luck.
I hope the program is there for your girls and the other bright kids who might otherwise fall through the cracks. By doing what you are at least you won't be left wondering "If only we had tried..."
" Never did they attribute his behavior to those typical of a gifted student who is not being challenged. He spent hours sitting in the principal’s office or lined up against the fence at recess. He wasn’t labeled a gifted child, but a bad child. And he felt it

it's like you ripped a page out of my parenting journal.
I can't thank you enough for fighting this great fight.
I applaud your efforts Melissa! It is sad the school board can not be more fine tuned about their assessment of programs.

I'm in the middle of planning my daughter's first IEP in the middle of our budget crisis and it is defeating at best. It is a blow to America that our kids are being short-changed as our tax dollars go to helping the rich stay rich.

Every seed counts, thank you for sewing yours.
Grace- I wonder what happens after the 2 million runs out - is raising that kind of money just putting off the inevitable? I can't imagine that in today's economy and with philanthropy becoming more competitive as need rises, that they will be able to sustain that level of fundraising for long.

Froggy - that's the same way I think the gifted programs are viewed, as something only serving children from middle and upper class families, but I have had so many kids participate in the gifted groups I volunteer with that don't fit that definition and those are the kids I worry about most.

Jeff- That's what I'm learning -though we are very lucky to have an amazing advocate in the woman who heads our A&A program. She will lose her position for sure this year but she is still helping us fight to keep the part-time aide.
Mary - true, at least I'll know I gave it a shot.

Amanda- There are so many of us out there, parents who have had to figure out how to make the public school system work for our gifted children, it still amazes me that our collective voice isn't being heard. Raising gifted children can be as difficult in many ways as raising any other child with different needs and I wish somehow we could make the general public understand that.

ame i - I promise I'll google Jackson someday soon - you've got me interested in the rest of the story!

sparking - I know we can't create a school system that provides every child with exactly what they need - but it's nice to dream, isn't it.

Hoop - funny you mention it, they asked both my husband and I to run for school board this year and we both said no. As much as part of me wanted to do it, it is more time commitment right now than a part-time job and there was also potential conflict of interest because our camp is developing some programming with the schools. That being the case, I will use whatever good will I have managed to build with the schools to make a difference. Staggering to think how many teachers one year of LeBron James' salary could save.
with all the pressure to keep up with the Joneses (China and other countries burying us with their advanced classes for math and science at a very young age) it is shocking that we would cut funding for the very ones who could help us, as a nation, "keep up."

I admire what you are trying to do.
Thanks Heron. As of today, we still don't know the outcome of the program cuts. The state has said the budget cuts for next year won't be has bad as predicted so our school board voted to allow the administration to reinstate the "blue list", ie: their high priority items that were scheduled to be cut, like the school counselors. No one knows what's on the list but I still have a strong feeling that the gifted program will not be saved. One of the school board members who spoke directly at the meeting about the A&A program used the same old "I'd rather see the money go to support students who are lagging behind" argument. I get that we can't cut supports to academically at-risk students, but they obviously don't understand that gifted students often fall into that same category. As you can tell, I haven't gotten down off my soapbox yet.
Hi Melissa, I'm on the school board here in our small Texas town, and all the talk is about how the legislature will be slashing our budgets.

You are right - your school must not slash G/T. Truly gifted children need support and differentiated opportunities to be successful. Without the help, they face social problems, including bullying; they may try to hide their abilities for fear of looking different; they may tune out of school completely for sheer boredom. Can you imagine being able to read independently in first grade and having to sit through hours of lessons on phonics? Can you imagine having a fantastic vocabulary and being taunted for using it? Can you imagine being ready for algebra and watching the teacher endlessly reteach long division? If you're not a parent of a gifted child or an experienced teacher, these may seem like such trivial problems, but they're not - gifted kids are just as much of a dropout risk as learning-challenged kids. In fact, I would say that giftedness IS a learning challenge.

What was the outcome of the vote? If they cut G/T, look into starting an Education Foundation. Our town has only 4,000 people, and our foundation raises around $30,000 per year, all of it funding innovative educational programs. I could send you our entire book of Bylaws, our grant applications, our donor letters, everything you need to get started. Good to read you - it's been a long time since I've been on OS.